Last time, I talked a bit about Boxee and how it proved to be too much for the Acer Revo 1600 I'd bought on impulse. This time I'm going to get into some of the details that have convinced me to not make Boxee the centerpiece of my Internet TV experience.
But first, thanks again for the feedback that you've sent in. It's really helped to refine my thinking on the direction I'm heading in. I've also been thinking more about what I'm about to do to Ms. SmallNetBuilder, or more to the point, what she will do to me if I screw up access to her favorite shows.
Anyone with a DVR—even the crappy, non-Tivos built into most cable and satellite boxes—knows how they transform the TV watching experience. With the ability to automatically record anything we want to watch, we almost never watch live TV.
The basic mechanics are easy to master and we manage to keep up with the recorded programs so that we seldom need to weed through the queue to kill off programs before the DVR does it on its own.
So I've decided to try to model the DVR experience as much as possible in whatever solution I come up with. Unfortunately, for Internet TV, this is going to be difficult at best. The battle is still raging among content creators, their established distribution channels, i.e. the cable, satellite (and to a lesser extent) telecom providers like AT&T and Verizon, content owners' own web video experiments and independent Internet-based distributors such as Netflix, MediaMall Technologies' PlayOn and Boxee.
As a result, there is no one legal place on the Internet where you can access the same content that you can get from the cable, TV and telecom folks. That is, unless you pay for the privilege by signing up for the TV Everywhere
scam service I covered in Part 2. So we're forced to use multiple sources to scavenge all the shows we currently watch.
The good news is that by using a computer instead of a dedicated media player appliance, accessing multiple sources is as easy as finding an application (or service) that has the desired content and loading it up. The bad news is that having to remember which program / service is used for what content is not conducive to a high WAF!
Note that the above list doesn't contain Hulu, which is a Frankensteinish creation of NBC Universal, News Corp. and, more recently, Disney. It's fair to say that, currently, any Internet TV solution's success is tied to its ability to source content from Hulu. The problem is that Hulu seems like it hasn't decided yet which partners it wants, if any at all. And that is just one of the problems standing between Boxee and success.
What's a Boxee?
So what is this Boxee thing? You can think of it as an amped-up media player that is meant to be the main portal for your digital media consumption. It is partially open source, since it is built upon the popular XBMC media player that started as a media player that ran only on hacked Xboxes. But Boxee's main twist is that it includes social networking functions that allow you and selected "friends" to share information about the media that you are consuming.
If you want to get a taste of Boxee in action, you can check out the video below. It has enough snippets of Boxee's major functions to give you an idea of what it can do.
Boxee comes in flavors that run on Windows XP, Vista and 7, Mac OSes 10.4, 10.5 and 10.6 (Intel hardware only), Apple TV and 32 and 64 bit versions of Ubuntu Linux. All are free downloads. But before you can use Boxee, you need to register to establish an account for those social networking features (and so that you can eventually buy stuff from Boxee).
The Boxee buzz ramped up last December when Boxee announced its first partner, D-Link, to produce a dedicated Boxee appliance (Figure 1) for those folks who don't like having a noisy computer sitting in their living room.
Figure 1: The Boxee Box by D-Link
The Boxee Box By D-Link (as they insist on calling it) is very small. But it packs a big computing punch by using an NVIDIA Tegra 2 (T20) platform, which features a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU and NVIDIA GPU. Boxee says this chip will handle Adobe Flash 10.1 web content and up to local 1080p video without breaking a sweat. The Box also comes with an RF remote that has a handy QWERTY keyboard on the back.